Making Partnerships Work

By Emma Harewood. For more, follow this link to her LinkedIn post on Beyond Therapy.

On 19th May Bluestar hosted ‘Beyond Therapy’, the first ever festival of activism for child sexual abuse in Bristol dedicated to re-imagining our society’s response to child sexual abuse through research, creativity and connection. Emma Harewood hosted a panel with experts from The Lighthouse, Bristol SARC, NHS England commissioner and Claire Bethel of RedQuadrant, to talk about ‘Shaping the system around children and families – encouraging professionals to work in partnership to create whole system change.’

What does it mean to work in a true partnership?

The Lighthouse team explained it takes more than just co-location, although that certainly enables sharing of knowledge and expertise across agencies. Creating an understanding of each other roles, culture and priorities means you can influence others to keep the child central. They described working with police to slow down the process at the start of investigation so the child feels in control. As well as providing expert consultation to support social workers and teachers in the community, allowing the service to reach a wider group of children and embed good practice. And understanding the restorative value of the doctor’s examination.

Partnerships take time to create, and the team advised others to invest enough time in developing agreed ways of working before they open the door to children.  They encouraged commissioners and policy makers to ensure there are enough sessions provided to create safe spaces for children to share and for supporting parents with the skills to be there for their child.

What are the benefits for children and young people when we work in a partnership?

The young people said they really valued all services being under one roof and the holistic service.  Their persuasive voices gave support to recommission the full service offer after the pilot and convinced the judiciary to allow pre-record cross examinations in the Lighthouse. 

We heard how the children felt welcome and ‘almost loved’ at the Lighthouse, only having to tell their story once in a safe place. They had choice and control over who they talked to and when.  For the first time, the professionals had been organised around them, rather than the child fitting in with the professional’s ways of working. Young people in Bristol, Jersey and London have all said that being able to access something as simple as a sexual health follow-up in the safe place they first met the doctor after sexual abuse, is better than travelling to an adult focused GUM clinic where they felt judged. The Bridge in Bristol are looking for young people’s voices to amplify the need for this partnership service in their local SARC right now. Other young people in the AYPH study, remind us how important holistic support is to help re-establish friendships, school and family life.

Why is it so hard to achieve partnership working?

Ultimately the financial resources needed to create joined up partnership services are considerable and seen by some as gold standard. As well as the time it takes to really invest in the relationships and understanding needed to create true partnership. Add into the mix the logistical nightmare of all partners, commissioners and policy makers aligning their shared vision and commitment at the same time as contracts end! And finally, the need for sacrifices to be made in organisational culture and ‘the way we do things round here’ to find a middle way.

Creating new partnership and whole system change need passionate, relentless and creative leaders – but the difference the change can make to children, families and adult survivors is priceless.  The external Lighthouse evaluation and final annual report have shown that investing in holistic, long-term support in a multi-agency partnership improves the experience and outcomes for children and families.  With less victim withdrawals and more cases making it as far as the CPS, the Lighthouse partnership is starting to turn the tide towards a more child friendly experience of the justice system against the backdrop of a shocking all-time low in the conviction rates in the UK for child sexual abuse.

You can read more about the Lighthouse and setting up your own version of a Child House model partnership in the Child House Toolkit and the Home Office Child House Partnership Guidance.

With thanks to the panel members:

Emma Harewood (chair) – Co-founder of the Lighthouse – the first UK Barnahus for children that experience sexual abuse, the Child House model and CSA hub model.

Marian Moore, NSPCC service manager at the Lighthouse

Eimear Timmons, Practice Development Manager at the Lighthouse

 Dr Michelle Cutland, Clinical Director at The Bridge and CSA Centre for Expertise

Claire Bethel, RedQuadrant.  Policy expert in sexual violence and author of Child House Toolkit

Becks Marsh – NHS England Commissioner in the South West

SAVVI – a system approach to identifying vulnerability

I recently found out about SAVVI, which stands for “a Scalable Approach to Vulnerability via Interoperability”. SAVVI, led by Tameside Council and sponsored by GMCA, aims to use data to find vulnerable people. The project is developing a catalogue of datasets, their sources and the basis on which they can be used by organisations delivering public services to identify individuals or households with particular vulnerabilities, such as for the purpose of homelessness prevention. 

Having worked with local authority and publicly available secondary data for some time, often building specific analytical tools to spec, I saw the potential straight away of SAVVI to transform how organisations delivering public services use their and others’ data to improve the work they do and outcomes for the vulnerable people identified. 

Vulnerability often looks different from different parts of the system, and it can be difficult to fully identify vulnerability and people’s needs from within a single service so my hope is that SAVVI brings different perspectives across the system of public services together in the form of powerful datasets that can be used to identify, and then support, those whose needs are currently invisible. 


You can find out more about SAVVI here: 

https://coda.io/@savvi/welcome

and watch video presentations about the project here: 


Using secondary data to identify vulnerability and support needs isn’t a new idea. In 2018/19, when I was interim Business Intelligence and Performance Manager for the soon to be Somerset West and Taunton Council, I initiated a project to develop a dataset using council tax, police, and DWP data that would enable the council to better identify or even predict households for which earlier support could help to prevent council tax payment defaults. 

The principle being applied was that support that meets citizens’ underlying needs is always going to be cheaper than enforcement action after things have gone wrong and will undoubtedly lead to better outcomes for all involved. The aim of the business intelligence work, under whose umbrella the project sat, was to develop a single dataset for all council held data in a GIS, which is a database for geographic data, so that any form of geographical analysis could be conducted as required. 

I was fortunate to have a very skilled team but only saw the very start of the project while I was there so it’s great to see SAVVI being developed as this could open up the power of data that is already available, to address challenging population issues across the system. 


If you’re interested in the power of geographic data, you might also want to have a look at HMG’s Geospatial Strategy: 

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unlocking-the-power-of-locationthe-uks-geospatial-strategy

How can you make better decisions in #complexity?

What is one thing you’d like to offer to adult social care commissioners to help them decide their approach?

How can you make better decisions in #complexity?

How do we ensure a better #future for citizens, communities – and ourselves?

How can we encourage #innovation in an over-pressurised and partly broken system?


Adult social care #commissioning is a fantastic space to explore these issues, as we’ve been doing for the last few weeks on an interesting project, and for years before that!

Commissioning in adult social care means shaping a complex system to get better outcomes for people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities or physical or mental health issues.

It can be as narrow (but challenging) as ‘procuring organisations to provide homecare’, and as wide and messy as ‘shaping a community where everyone can thrive’.

As a commissioner, you have varying levels of power, authority, capability, respect, and understanding in your organisation.

…you have to constantly respond to crises (most of them caused by ‘austerity’): a provider of care collapsing; problems recruiting and retaining workforce because they’re paid less than Amazon; 30% of carers off sick with COVID; an urgent need for particular specialist mental health services (say).

…and you have to work in a place, with all its complexities:

– do the chief executives of the council and the hospital trust get along, or can they not be trusted to be in the same room together?

– do our providers trust us, or are they still hurting because we clumsily tried to reduce their fees three years ago?

– do the community organisations agree with our ideas about ‘coproduction’, or do they see it as foisting the costs of care on to them?


What we’re doing is trying to produce a tool to help people doing this messy, complex job to assess their context, and:

1- put together a commissioning development plan to get more ability to influence the system of health and care in their place (or, even, the system of wellbeing)

2- decide which of twelve ‘commissioning approaches’ fits their place and their needs best


We’ve been running this as a #workoutloud process – so if you fancy diving in and contributing, you’re welcome! There’s an open Mural board and an open meeting on Wednesday 20 April at 2:30pm (links below).

Or you can give us a quick comment here:

What is one thing you’d like to offer to adult social care commissioners to help them decide their approach?


As well as the slides (scroll to the bottom), the draft working documents are on a Mural board for comment, at https://app.mural.co/t/redquadrant9812/m/redquadrant9812/1644015309200/e20e0564cb7277f742c6f3923f2cc0d6e90ca20e?sender=benjamintaylor2777

Mural Board

And there’s a final meeting of our open group for anybody who wants to comment on Wednesday 20th 2:30-3:45pm which you are welcome to attend – registration needed at https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYld-CtrDMtH9RG2dYFmpqKoLqPbBZz82eU


About this work:

The Public Service Transformation Academy has been commissioned by the LGA (the Care and Health Improvement Programme, jointly run with DHSC and ADASS) to produce a tool for adult social care commissioners to go through strategic options appraisal – i.e. to assess their place and decide the best approach to commissioning.


The slides in PDF:

your help needed – Supporting Adult Social Care Commissioners – Strategic Commissioning Options Appraisal

Working on behalf of the LGA, the Public Service Transformation Academy and RedQuadrant are developing materials to provide a useful (free!) tool to support adult social care commissioners in their strategic thinking.

We need your help! We are seeking input from relevant experts across the sector. If you have thoughts about adult social care commissioning, please give us your details here or contact david.mason@publicservicetransformation.org, or on 07887 442487, or benjamin.taylor@publicservicetransformation.org or 07931317230.

We aim to do two key things:

1) Support commissioner to go through a clear process to obtain relevant information to help them understand the landscape – their current situation and key goals

2) Use this data and understanding to select the right commissioning approach for their situation and goals (place-based, outcome-based etc) taking everything into account

We want to learn from all the previous work in this space to produce something really valuable for commissioners and all the stakeholders affected by commissioning. This will be freely available for the whole of local government to use (and to anyone else who finds it useful).

How to engage:
Complete our questionnaire to provide information and ideas, or put yourself forward for a one-to-one interview, focus group, or a deep dive into a council’s commissioning approach

• Join our fortnightly open working sessions, starting on Wednesday 9 February, 2-3:30pm

We welcome input from all commissioning stakeholders – as well as adult social care commissioners and others directly involved, we’re looking for input from suppliers, care users and representatives, partner organisations, local authority finance directors and chief executives, health organisations and others with a perspective.

Please direct any questions, queries, or other comments to
david.mason@publicservicetransformation.org 07887 442487
benjamin.taylor@publicservicetransformation.org 07931317230

(As we are using various means to get this out there as widely as possible, you might see this message more than once – apologies if so!)

Find out more about the Public Service Transformation Academy and our work.
your community needs you

Commissioning, community, and ‘levelling up’ – a critical moment

Yesterday I was lucky enough to chair Transforming Commissioning: Levelling Up and Community Investment, a Third Sector Commissioning conference from Westminster Insights. It was one of those events where (all credit to the organisers), each of the speakers had a hugely high proportion of powerful, crisp messages in their very short slots, and the audience were engaged and well-informed.

Here are my rough notes from the wrapup at the end of the day, attempting to summarise some of those very rich messages.

Credit to the speakers is at the end; you can consider that the good ideas in here come from them, and bad interpretations are all mine.


Ad break: as well as the brilliant work we do at the Public Service Transformation Academy to build capacity for commissioning and transformation, we’re currently working on behalf of the LGA on a project to provide structured support to adult social care commissioners to develop their strategic approach.

If you’d like to share your experience or ideas to inform a free, open, local-government-wide tool and learning community, we are interested in hearing from all parties.

There are several different ways that you could get involved. We are looking for interviewees, case studies and focus group attendees.

We are also planning to create an open learning community. This will meet for the first time on the afternoon of Wednesday 9 February and will meet fortnightly on four more occasions.

If you are interested in getting involved, please contact David Mason at david.mason@publicservicetransformation.org, 07887 442487


First, and above all, commissioning that privileged the competitive incentive above all others probably is dead, or certainly deserves to die – we should be seeing competition as one of the very powerful (and risky) tools in the toolkit.

The reality is that twelve years of austerity has left us with a great deal of damage. We heard that civil society – at least organised civil society – is weakest where it’s most needed.


The old saw of fragmented funding comes up every time the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector gathers – and comes up every time local government gathers.

And yesterday I heard about Public Health England not yet having a 2022-23 budget with which to carry out it’s critical NHS workforce planning role. And about NHS capital funding; announced on December 24, and absolutely needs to be spent before 1 April.

There’s a risk this becomes the background noise, the water we swim in. But we need to take this seriously.

The HUGE cost and friction of current funding mechanisms isn’t just ‘something the recipients like to moan about’. It’s an actual economically demonstrable disincentive to value.

If you wanted to design a system to stymie all the good things we are seeking from ‘levelling up’, you would design it this way.


This is of a piece with the absolute fragmentation of coordination across the sector – or perhaps I want to say the fragmentation of coherence – the ‘institutional clutter’, the ‘pinball referrals’, the lack of joining-up which creates a negative multiplier on spend, impact, and citizen experience.

Nevertheless, there’s still a deep strength even in the most deprived, most under-invested communities.

Amongst many philosophical reflections and aphorisms, Will Balakrishnan of the Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime in London challenged us: “Ask yourself – are you the prisoner of your experience?”

I think that’s particularly relevant in the context of fragmentation, and of lack of civil society organisations where they’re most needed.


Another theme – and the antidote to fragmentation – is relationships.

This is all about relationships – relationships between levels of government, levels and peers of the community and voluntary sector, and between citizens and ‘providers’ (and between citizens themselves – especially when you consider a starting point of ‘we are all citizens’.

It’s easy to get carried away and think ‘relationships’ is all about sweetness and light and connections.

Relationships are NOT just a love-in – I mean, have you ever been in a relationship?

Good relationships are robust, challenging, they provoke growth.

Will reduced all of commissioning to three questions:

1.      What is life like now for people?

2.     How is it changing?

3.     How might it change if we do things differently?

And added two provocations:

  • Imagine there are no services
  • How do we make space for conversation?

This relational underpinning to commissioning and to voluntary and community sector investment and whatever ‘levelling up’ means is critical.


We heard two really great comparable challenges:

  • This should be about paying forward, not in arrears, from Kathy Evans of Children England
  • And an exhortation to focus on measurable outcomes as a way of bringing the fragmentation together, from Andreaa Anastasiu of the Government Outcomes Lab

This will feed in to the balance of story and data later, but I want to make the point that this relates to relationships too. A transactional relationship can never focus on the bigger picture.

Governance – another word for relationships – also emerged as a really critical issue – and like other forms of assets it needs to be built up (in advance) – and can be measured by trust.

Learning and adaptation came through as really critical – a sector with people literally leaving because they are worried about the ‘precarity’ of their own jobs, with 30% of the effort and cost going into bidding, managing, measuring and reporting (my own illustrative figure) – who has time to learn?


At the heart of this is the UK as one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.

There was a strong push to better connect the grassroots with the national policy agenda, which is always ‘playing catch-up with what’s on the ground’.

Part of this is that MPs and Councillors have to spend some time connecting to community and the voluntary, community, and social enterprise sector. But civil servants don’t. Give them opportunities for secondments, visits, deeper, embodied understanding.

They are bright, well-intentioned people and they are listening. There was particular praise for the government’s response to the procurement green paper responses – ‘hey, it looks like they actually listened!’

The question was put to VCSE attendees: “What do you know about the system that no-one else knows?”

How can you use your insight at the grass roots level (at the level of the reality of people’s lives!) to break through – to confront people with human, electoral, economic realities – that changes perspectives, mindsets, and policies.


The really good news, as we heard from Matt Whittaker of Pro Bono Economics, reinforced by real data from many others, is that the economic and social pictures are aligned and clear:

  • Moving money to the local pays back better
  • For every £1 into social infrastructure, c63p is re-spent locally (using the Calderdale case study from Sian Rogers at Calderdale Council and Rachel Bentley of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies)
  • And you get £3.20 back in the following decade – it regenerates places

So civil society spend not only has a massive impact on civil society where it’s most needed, it also gives a massive economic boost.

And we had a reminder – how easily we give up on this – early intervention and prevention offer us enormous value!!

Not to mention that, just perhaps, we should be thinking about key services – especially services for children – not as a luxury but as a huge investment. If ‘schools should be cathedrals’, is it really right that we might recoil in horror at the idea of accidentally over-investing in children? God forbid we might ‘gold-plate’ anyone’s pre-school experience…

Furthermore, investment in civil society can shift core services (as Calderdale showed).

And you get an extra multiplier on these effects if you work with organisations led by and for minoritised communities.

The bottom line is: attempts at transforming economic context succeed when there is the right community and social context.

Matt Whitaker pointed out to use that the WELBY measure – ‘wellbeing adjusted year of life’ – is now in Treasury mainstream Green Book guidance – so let’s use !

(And the Treasury has the Magenta Book for complex evaluation)

So certain parts of government still ‘need persuading’ about the benefits of devolving spend and the ‘efficiency’ of the community and voluntary sector – but even their own evidence is pretty clear – so let’s use it.

Kathy Evans, Children England – Eight Principles for Commissioning

So changing mindsets from thinking about individual activities (fragmented) to thinking about outcomes – and gathering data and evidence – is critical. We need to articulate the cause by better articulating the value – to get to a place where “you can’t be a serious politician and talk about building a better UK without talking about civil society”.

One really big takeaway for commissioners from all this is – despite all the pressures – to really play an active market stewardship role – understand your provider market role, and really thinking about the relationships you are involved in and shaping.

This, inevitably, means investment. And that includes – especially with covid – making sure core funding includes funding for sector resilience and wellbeing.

It also means seeing the bigger system of which we are a small part, understanding that ‘giving away power’ is just a myth – that if we see ourselves as a small influential part of a bigger thing, we can go much further.


There was an inspiring belief in the power of local authorities.

Despite facing the greatest struggle of resource and capacity ever – lots of positive things can happen locally, particularly in partnerships between the sectors locally.

The rallying cry here was to build the infrastructure to take things out of the hands of central government. To build that core economy, abundant economy, based on relationships and people connected with each other, not on the scarcity of goods and things.

At the same conference last year, I gave a talk on ‘commissioning is dead – long live commissioning’ (a favourite topic since at least 2012). The ‘commissioning cycle’ which puts procurement at the heat of commissioning deserves to die.

As we are slowly moving out of the equivalent of a wartime footing with the pandemic, the hope for the future is in continuity of funding, building local governance capacity and relationships, and building community power in which the public sector plays a constructive role.


Speakers at the event were:

  • Andreea Anastasiu, Senior Policy and Engagement Officer, Government Outcomes Lab (University of Oxford)
  • Vidhya Alakeson OBE , CEO, Power to Change
  • Matt Whittaker, CEO, Pro Bono Economics
  • Will Balakrishnan, Director of Commissioning and Partnerships at Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC)
  • Rachel Bentley, Associate Director, Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES)
  • Sian Rogers, Policy & Projects Manager, lead for Voluntary and Community Sector, Calderdale Council
  • David Holmes CBE, CEO, Family Action
  • Kathy Evans, Chief Executive, Children England

Taking a step back before the next big leap in digital transformation

Dr Gerald Power is RedQuadrant’s director of customer-led transformation and service lead for digital change and digital delivery.

The last two years has been ‘challenging’ to say the least for public sector delivery organisations as they have had to cope with the direct and indirect impact of covid. In many ways covid greatly accelerated change that was overdue and we are seeing step-changes in how service delivery is done and realising very tangible benefits from this. However, those with an interest in change and may also recognise a need to pause and reflect and three areas stand out as in particular need of attention before the next push forward:


i) Ensuring all your internal stakeholders are engaging in solution development. The last two years will have seen some major leaps forward in using cloud storage, Software As a Solution (SAS), use of AI, virtual working and online self-service. However, not all stakeholders will have kept up with this. Those on the ‘front line’ coping with crisis after crisis may not understand the nature of the new technologies being used. There is a need to help them ‘catch up’ and give them space to engage in discussions on how to best exploit it rather than imposing solutions on them.


ii) Thinking in terms of Enterprise Architecture (EA). Using cloud technologies and SAS solutions have many big advantages, but they also create challenges technically and commercially. EA is no longer something that the senior team can ignore or delegate; they have to develop sufficient understanding to establish EA’s that are resilient and effective.

iii) Challenging ways of working and job roles. The sea-change in technology and ways of working should fundamentally change job roles and how performance is monitored. But, this requires transformative change and needs effort and leadership.


In response to the call to reflect there will be the inevitable ‘so what question’, why spend time on analysis and reflection when the technology clearly works and we desperately need efficiency. In response, I would remind readers of NASA and their ‘faster, cheaper, better’ approach.


In the 1990s NASA pioneered an aggressively optimistic approach to programme management which was summarised as ‘faster, cheaper, better’. Initially, it worked very well and the space programme leapt forward rapidly. However, early success was followed by several major disasters including the loss of two space shuttles with their crews. The ‘faster, cheaper, better’ phase was later amended with many programme managers adding ‘pick any two’ to it. While it may not be entirely true that you can’t have all three the NASA experience highlights how important it is to reflect and test when transformative change is happening rapidly and ‘faster, cheaper, better’ might be too good to be true.

RedQuadrant qualifies for a record 17 lots on cross-public service framework contract

Launching today, the new iteration of the ESPO Consultancy Services Framework. Run by the Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation on behalf of all UK public services (and accessible to charities and other bodies too), we are proud to have been on this framework for ten years. This is a record year for us, though, as we have qualified for all the lots for which we bid – 17 in total:

We received first or second placing amongst bidders for:

  • Revenues and Benefits
  • Public Health
  • General Finance
  • Social Care (Children)
  • Strategic IT
  • Housing and Housing Support
  • Strategic Projects
  • Community Research and Engagement

And top five placing for:

  • Business Services
  • Social Care (Adults)
  • Regeneration and Regional Development
  • Marketing, Communications and PR
  • Leisure, Culture and Tourism (including Library Services)

We also qualified with high scores for:

  • Procurement
  • Highways, Traffic and Transport
  • Environmental and Sustainability
  • Waste and Recycling

The framework is now live and runs for a period of two years.

RedQuadrant Head of Consulting, Frank Curran, said:

It’s a huge vote of confidence from the sector in our unique expertise and experience. It is wonderful to get this recognition and to be able to continue to provide excellent value through fixed-price consultancy, change support, and capability building.

To procure RedQuadrant through compliant direct award or mini-competition, go to:

https://www.redquadrant.com/frameworks

Long live commissioning! But what shall we call it?

What do you call an approach that moves #publicservices

from

  • ‘spending money on services to meet needs’

to

  • ‘intervening and learning in the complex systems that actually shape our lives’?
latest piece in the Municipal Journal

The former sees ‘services’ as the whole universe, brought into being by our public service cash.

The latter sees that people are busy living their lives and that funding is just part of the influence we can have on citizen and community outcomes.


The word we’re stuck with, like it or not, is #commissioning.


It’s been five months since I last wrote ‘it ain’t dead!’ (I checked). And I have to keep saying it.

Yet because commissioning covers that (still vital) process of deciding which services (in-house, outsourced, third sector) are funded and which are not, it still gets bracketed with procurement, outsourcing, and contract management.

It’s much more than that, and since 2011 we’ve been working to show how it much more deserves to be part of #systemschange #systemsleadership and what’s now called #humanlearningsystems

My latest piece in the Municipal Journal is at https://www.themj.co.uk/Long-live-commissioning-/221192

How would you try to get this message across? What would you call it?


See also

Our core positioning piece: ‘commissioning is an approach to transformation’

https://www.linkedin.com/posts/antlerboy_commissioning-is-an-approach-to-transformation-activity-6757571035324915712-hdlr


Can commissioning truly start from the assets and capabilities of citizens and communities? As we inch towards the post-Covid era, what opportunities and risks are opened up by the massive release of citizen and community assets during the pandemic?

https://www.linkedin.com/posts/antlerboy_shift-or-skid-what-are-commissioners-doing-activity-6810819776701698048-RtML/


Commissioning is dead, long live commissioning

https://www.linkedin.com/posts/antlerboy_benjamin-taylor-for-pste-commissioning-activity-6775742215768682496-nAAK/

Something new has been named – #systemsconvening

see

Register for the launch webinar on 2 September: https://bit.ly/SCBookLaunch

Download the book and join the community: https://bit.ly/SystemsConvening

Child exploitation is everyone’s business – contextual safeguarding can help.

By Claire Bethel

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) had a high profile following the public outcry which ensued from the widespread abuse in places such as Rochdale, Rotherham and Oxford. This led to significant changes on the back of Professor Alexis Jay’s report into the handling of CSE in Rotherham in 2014.  Her report brought to light the previously unknown scale of the problem, estimating that at least 1,400 children in Rotherham experienced CSE over a number of years, largely ignored by those responsible for their care and protection. The response – alongside the work of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, also chaired by Alexis Jay – has included a far greater focus on CSE. Whereas previously, child sexual abuse was viewed as largely a familial problem, the exploitation of children by perpetrators outside the family including groups and gangs, as well as by their peers, has commanded far wider recognition. 

One of the ways in which the traditional approach to children’s safeguarding has changed has been the move towards contextual safeguarding, bringing recognition of the increasing complexity of this landscape. Contextual safeguarding takes account of the fact that, as young people develop, they are influenced by a range of environments and people outside their family including their peers and their online lives. Many local authorities now have complex safeguarding teams which recognise the risks posed by influences outside the home environment. A great deal of resources are consumed by children and young people who go missing, often repeatedly, with much police and children’s social care activity focused on finding and returning them. One benefit of the changing approach and culture is a reduction in the level of victim-blaming and punitive nature of the responses previously associated with CSE. Services – not least the police – are becoming more trauma-informed, trained to recognise the wider context of a young person’s life, the underlying causes of their actions (including Adverse Childhood Experiences) and the opportunities for recovery. 

Increasingly, CSE is seen in the wider context of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) with the pervasive risks posed by county lines now seen as a major component of serious crime, involving sometimes quite young children in criminality, more often than not linked to drugs and trafficking. CSE of the type seen in Rotherham and Rochdale seems to be less prevalent given the increased surveillance, with other forms of extra-familial abuse, including peer-on-peer abuse, online abuse and other forms of harmful sexual behaviour, more widely identified.  

The implementation of contextual safeguarding, pioneered by Dr Carlene Firmin at the University of Bedford[1], includes working both at the level of the individual child or young person using techniques such as peer group mapping to look at their contacts and influences, and at the level of the community. Multi-agency safeguarding groups work collaboratively with the local community, including businesses such as hotels and taxi firms – indeed any organisation that comes into contact with children or young people – to establish the potential danger points in the community and to come up with responses collectively. Improving the lighting in the local playground where young people hang out at night or putting CCTV in place in the stairwell in the block of flats where young people are at risk from gangs illustrate what can be done.

Whole-school approaches and peer group work can be particularly helpful in addressing problems in school-aged children with the potential for bystander interventions to address peer-generated abuse and issues such as inappropriate image sharing. Safeguarding is, rightly, seen as everybody’s business rather than a familial problem confined to the home. Parents – frequently seen in the past as the cause of the problem – are increasingly seen as key to the solution and as partners in the team around the child or young person, representing a seismic cultural shift for social workers.  

Some of our work in this area has included working with voluntary sector organisations and local authorities to help them understand the changing nature of the problem and to look at what steps need to be taken to deliver contextual safeguarding and address the growing problem of child criminal exploitation. This presents several challenges: not least, challenges for the workforce to understand the implications for professional practice and the overriding need to work collaboratively with other agencies, and the practical challenges of adapting council information systems geared towards meeting the needs of individual children or young people at risk of harm.

Children and young people affected by exploitation need holistic, flexible, child-centred, trauma-informed, non-stigmatising services delivered by practitioners who can provide a consistent response as and when – and where –  the young person is ready to receive it. We also need to ensure that we don’t focus so much on child criminal exploitation that we downplay the needs of children and young people who have experienced child sexual abuse or exploitation, including online abuse, who continue to require specialist interventions by skilled practitioners.

If you would like to know more about how RedQuadrant could help you to deliver contextual safeguarding in your area, contact claire.bethel@redquadrant.com

Claire Bethel
Consultant
RedQuadrant 


[1] https://www.beds.ac.uk/iasr/about/staff/carlene-firmin/